Managing Problem Employees and Legal Risks in Massachusetts: Essential Guidance
Minimizing Risk With Difficult Employees
Managing problem employees is a common challenge for employers. It's crucial to handle these situations carefully to protect your business interests and minimize legal risks. This guide provides practical advice for employers on how to navigate these issues effectively.
Even when disciplining or terminating an employee for valid reasons, it's crucial to avoid unintentionally running afoul of anti-discrimination and retaliation laws. In today's workplace, virtually all employees fall into one or more protected classes, including age, gender, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity, race, religion, and national origin. Protected activities for retaliation law encompass a wide range of actions, such as requesting family/medical leave, raising concerns under wage and hour laws, filing workers' compensation claims, and more.
Review our Employer's Guide to Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation.
While it may not be illegal to act unfairly, employees who perceive unfair treatment are more likely to question the legality of their termination. It's essential to remember that the rest of your team is observing how you handle a difficult employee.
Learn more at Fair Treatment as Risk Management.
Once you've determined that termination is necessary for legitimate reasons and in good faith, do not delay taking action. Prolonging an unsustainable situation does no favors for the employee and increases your legal risk. An employee sensing they are "on the ropes" becomes a liability the longer they remain in the workplace.
Do Not Hand Your Problem Employee a Loaded Weapon: Wage and Hour Laws
One common mistake employers make when addressing problematic employee behavior is allowing innocent wage and hour law violations. This could involve delaying final paychecks past the termination date, miscalculating hours or overtime, withholding earned but unpaid commissions, or deducting amounts from a final paycheck. These actions are actionable under wage and hour laws and carry strict penalties, regardless of intent.
Review the most common wage and hour mistakes on termination.
Plan to Make This a One-Time Problem
After resolving a difficult employee situation, reflect on what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future. Consider whether improvements can be made in the recruitment and hiring process, role clarity, training, or addressing interpersonal dynamics within your team. Identifying early intervention opportunities can help avoid long-term issues. It is also a good idea to review your employment policies to make sure your expectations and processes are clearly laid out.
Cultivate Your Support Network Among Other Small Business Owners
Small business owners often lack peers within their companies to discuss management challenges. People management and HR are not typically taught and can be time-consuming. However, connecting with other business owners facing similar challenges through mastermind groups, local chamber events, or business associations can provide valuable perspectives and insights on managing teams and addressing common issues.
When to Seek Legal Advice
Optimize Your Employment Policies and Minimize Risk
Ideally, you've already had a comprehensive review of your basic employment policies and compensation plans to ensure there are no unintended legal risks in those areas. If you haven't, especially if you're contemplating disciplinary actions or employee termination, it's highly advisable to conduct this essential legal health check.
Seek Expert Guidance Before Taking Action
Furthermore, before you make any formal announcements regarding disciplinary measures or termination, consider enlisting the assistance of an experienced employment attorney. They can thoroughly review the situation, evaluate potential risks, and provide expert guidance on how to achieve your objectives while simultaneously minimizing any associated legal liabilities. You can also review our Employer's Termination Guide.
Effectively managing problem employees and minimizing legal risks is essential for businesses in Massachusetts. By understanding and complying with employment laws, implementing clear policies, addressing performance issues promptly, and seeking legal advice when necessary, employers can foster a positive work environment while reducing legal liabilities. Remember, proactive measures and adherence to best practices are key to success in managing employees and mitigating legal risk.
Need Help With a Problem Employee?
Need Help With a Problem Employee?
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